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biography Chrysler building race for the skies

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Chrysler Building: Creating an American Icon  Day By Day

 Eric Biolos 

For Mrs. Jones and Ms. Mancuso for helping me   Create my ebook.


Eric Biolos


New York, Today

    After studying the Chrysler Building I realized how important this building is to the New York skyline. When I first thought of the Chrysler Building I wasn’t really sure how interesting it would be. But after some preliminary research I saw the potential. I didn’t see a tall stack of bricks and steel, I saw a beautiful building topped off by a majestic spire.

    Seeing the Chrysler Building today makes me wonder how It looked 84 years ago. I wonder if it has aged since then or if it has stayed the same. Sometimes when I see it I can picture it being built. Seeing the spire going on the roof to top it off. Seeing Walter Chrysler and William Van Alen looking up at their perfected work.            Doing this research has made me wonder a few things. Could I be the one to this? Could I be the one to change architecture forever? My questions were answered when I started to write the book. And the answer is yes. This building has inspired me and pushed me to strive for greatness and I hope it does the same to you.


William Van Alen


New York City 1928

    It was september of 1928 when one of the wealthiest people in the world shook my hand and told me to build the tallest building in the world. But I wish it was only that easy, you see it wasn’t only Walter Chrysler who desired the tallest building in the world, in fact my old partner H.Craig Severance was the other. In 1924 Severance and I were partners in designing a building. The building was a success but our friendship was not. So as you could imagine I was stunned when I found out I was competing against him in a race to the skies.

     As the architect of the Chrysler Building, I wanted to make my boss proud but, inside all I really wanted to do was prove to Severance that I would not be beat. So, when Severance thought he could raise the building a few feet so he could win he had no idea what was coming. For four weeks the Manhattan Bank Building was the tallest building in the world but, on May 20th 1930, Severance saw my ace in the hole. Back in 1929 I secretly got permits from New York City for an 118 foot spire on top of the building which sent H. Craig Severance home in tears.

     After the Chrysler Building was built I was subject to many interviews and newspaper articles. All was going perfectly until I got called in to Walter Chrysler’s new top floor office, then everything went south. Chrysler didn’t pay me. He accused me of taking bribes from subcontractors. I was about to get a huge job in New York but after that went on the front page of the New York Times nobody wanted me anymore.

    There he was, one of the richest men in the world agreeing to a deal with William H. Reynolds, former owner of 405 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY. Envisioning in his own building, the tallest structure in the world. But he couldn’t do this alone, so he hired William Van Alen. When Van Alen asked what Chrysler wanted he said he wanted nothing less than “a bold structure declaring the glories of the modern age.”

    Chrysler being the competitive man that he is instead of going with the mainstream and keeping his headquarters in detroit he wanted a building in New York. Chrysler had two demands, one, he wanted a top floor office suite and two he wanted exquisite apartment. As well as a new headquarters Chrysler also wanted a monument to himself and the chrysler car company.

      After construction Chrysler was very impressed with how his building turned out. After checking out the apartment suites Chrysler went to his new top floor office. Onece he got settled he called Van Alen to his office. In there he accused van alen of taking bribes from subcontractors. This made many newspaper headlines and interviews. This also caused the fallout of Van Alen’s career. After this Chrysler kept running his car company. And on August 18, 1940 Walter Chrysler died of a stroke.


Walter Chrysler


New York City 1928


H. Craig Severance

Competitor                                                           New York City 1928

Sitting in his office reading the New York Times H. Craig Severance reads an article about Walter Chrysler and his plans to build the tallest building in the world at 927 feet. That was taller than the Manhattan Bank Building, the one that Severance was building right now. And that wasn’t even the worst part, the Chrysler Building was being designed by William Van Alen, Severance’s old partner, whom things didn’t end well. Severance knew Van Alen was out to get him so he devised a plan.

Not to be beaten Severance raised his building to 940 feet surpassing the chrysler building. For 4 weeks Severance won but, on May 20 1930 the whole world saw the defeat of the Manhattan Bank Building. Severance saw a 118 foot spire on top of the chrysler building and as that spire went up his dreams went down. Severance was stunned. His whole world, his whole life, his whole race to the skies lost by a spire.

After the completion of the Chrysler Building Severance was never really heard of again. He got no interviews, no newspaper headlines (or no good ones at least), and no really architecture jobs. For about 6 months he protested that the chrysler building took up to much space but his protests became irrelevant after the chrysler building was surpassed by the Empire State Building. So basically all that will be remembered about H.Craig Severance is one newspaper headline. “A race for the skies, lost by a spire.”


William H. Reynolds


New York City 1926

      The hands were shook, the contracts were signed and the land was sold. William H. Reynolds and Walter Chrysler had just agreed to a deal that gave Chrysler 405 Lexington Avenue and Reynolds a boatload of money. Reynolds, in desperate need of money didn’t realize it but he just sold the land where one of the most famous buildings in history would be built.  He just sold the land to Walter chrysler and this building would come to be the Chrysler Building.

       William Reynolds was a very successful real estate agent and senator who made a lot of money. Why is he selling the land for the “Reynolds Building”? Well, Reynolds made some very bad choices with his money and got in a lot of financial trouble. So when Walter Chrysler came to his doorstep and offered him money for a piece of land in New York Reynolds graciously accepted.

        There is not much known about William Reynolds except that he was a real estate agent and he was a senator. The only thing he was really known for is this deal that he made with Walter Chrysler. But we do know this, if he hadn’t shook Chrysler’s hand that day america’s architecture may not be quite the same.

Christopher Gray


New York City 1997


      Christopher Gray is a news reporter and architectural historian for The New York Times. He has been working with the new york times since 1987. Many articles have been featured in his article “streetscapes” including 37 on the Chrysler building. Gray’s knowledge on the Chrysler Building and all of New york provides research information and historical dates on different buildings.

      The year was 2002 when Gray published the book The Chrysler Building: Creating a New York Icon Day by Day. This book explains how fascinating the chrysler building really is. Gray’s articles don’t only tell you about the building it digs deep and finds the real meaning behind the exquisite buildings in New York. Gray has published 7 books and 2 magazines. The books dig deep into his most favorite buildings of all time and finds the information most people won’t find on their own.

        Gray continues to publish Streetscapes and looking around the city. And as said in one of grays streetscapes articles, “The Chrysler Building is part of the historical fabric of the city but at the same time a powerful symbol for the new generation.”

     It was a brisk september mourning and construction on the Chrysler Building had just begun. Ralph Squire and Sons, the engineering firm for the Chrysler Building overseeing everything. Being hired by Walter Chrysler was this firms greatest feat, and they weren’t going to let him down. Ralph Squire and Sons were not a big firm so they were desperate to prove themselves. And they did.

     The 2,000 men that were working on this historical building were also trying to prove themselves. In their eyes if the Chrysler Building turned out a failure it was their fault. Ralph Squire and Sons made sure that didn’t happen, because they were thinking the same things as the workers. Ralph Squire and sons became known as one of the best engineering firms of that time for one reason. The outside of the Chrysler Building. The Chrysler Building is one of the only buildings that has 21,000 pounds of pure steel on the facade. This is only one reason why the chrysler building is so great and its all because of Ralph Squire and Sons.

     After the Chrysler Building was built the firm was ecstatic. They had few other jobs before that and Walter Chrysler hired them. They owed everything they had to one man. But at the end of the day this engineering firm stood proud and with pride knowing they helped build one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.


Ralph Squire And Sons

Engineering Firm

New York 1929

Al Smith


New York 1930




     Al Smith was the governor of New York from January 1, 1923 to December 31, 1928. In 1928 Smith had a devastating loss to Herbert Hoover in the presidential election. After losing, Smith stopped his political career and started to look for other employments. Once he saw that the Chrysler Building was the tallest building in the world he found one. Empire State Incorporated, the company that planned to build the next tallest building in the world, The Empire State Building.

      ESI made Smith their president after the old one quit. Smith was in it to win it so he hired William Lamb. Lamb was part of the same firm that helped design 521 Fifth Avenue, the Forbes Magazine Building, the Standard Oil Building, the Bankers Trust Building and worked with H. Craig Severance on 40 Wall Street, the other building in the race for the skies. Smith’s determination and tenacity helped him succeed in getting the record of tallest building in only 16 months.

    “I never really thought i’d be doing anything else but politics, but now that I did i‘m happy.” Smith told the New York Times. And he should be, Smith was very important in the makings of one of the world’s most amazing structures today. And although his building beat the chrysler building it is still a very important piece in New York architecture.


Walter Chrysler as well as being the sponsor for the chrysler building was also the benefactor. Because he was a billionaire, Chrysler paid for the building alone. After all he was the one who wanted this to be his new headquarters. Chrysler’s fortune came from owning the Chrysler car company and it was a lot of money. That is why the buildings cost, 20 million dollars only made a small dent in his fortune.

Walter Chrysler was paying for it to ensure that his children inherited the building. Chrysler’’s biggest problems financially were the steel and brick. And the 118 foot spire on the top didn't help. Still Chrysler managed and became focused on the design. He had blueprints made to help Ralph Squire and Sons. And he paid the workers most handsomely.(Well except for Van Alen of course)  

Chrysler’s impact both financially and hands-on is one of the reasons why the Chrysler Building is so great today. But unfortunately his family didn’t keep control for very long. Chrysler got in trouble and ended up getting arrested. The building is now owned by Abu Dhabi Investment Council and Tishman Speyer. And although Chrysler lost control his impact will always be remembered



Walter Chrysler


New York 1928


William Van Alen


New York 1928



William Van Alen as well as being the architect he was also the designer. Van Alen had to scrap his original design for the ‘Reynolds” building when the land was bought out by Chrysler. But Van Alen kept one little part of the design, the terraced crown. Him and Chrysler both agreed that it was a good idea to keep it.  Chrysler wanted the building to reflect the machine age of the 1920s.

Van Alen wanted the building to be remembered as a classic building. For this reason he chose the Art Deco style. He thought Art Deco would really reflect what the 30s were about. To reflect the machine age he put eagle gargoyles hanging off the sides. These ornaments were found on vintage 30s plymouth and chrysler cars.

Van Alen’s design is an amazing reflection of the 20s and 30s. This is one reason millions of people come and see the Chrysler Building today. Unfortunately Van Alen was cheated out of his pay because he was accused of taking bribes from subcontractors. But his impact on the Chrysler Building and it’s design will never be forgotten.



 Eric Biolos

 Author                                                          New York Today

       After reading this, I hope that you now see the Chrysler Building the same way I do. I wanted to make my book seem like you were actually watching everything happen. The Chrysler Building is one of the best buildings in the world and I hope that you realized that like I do. 84 years ago when the Chrysler Building was built it was one of the most remarkable buildings to be built. The Chrysler building as well as tall was also very classy.

     During the roaring twenties and the early thirties, jazzy Art Deco architecture became the rage. Art Deco is an elegant style of decorative art, design and architecture. New York's Chrysler Building and Empire State Building, are considered to be two of the world's great Art Deco style buildings. The first use of the term Art Deco has been attributed to architect Le Corbusier, who penned a series of articles in his journal L'Esprit nouveau (the new spirit) under the headline "1925 Expo: Arts Déco". Art Deco emphasizes geometric forms such as spheres, polygons, rectangles, trapezoids,and zigzags. From 1925 to 1940 americans embraced Art Deco as refreshing change from the old and boring ideas that preceded it.


Art Deco

Height (Spire)                    1046.33 ft

Height (roof)                      925 ft

Height (top floor)              898.29 ft

Height (observation floor)     783 ft

Length                                 204.92 ft2

Width                                  200.78 ft2

Floors (above ground)     77


Chrysler building dimensions 

About The Author


I am a sixth grader in westchester county. My hobbies are playing basketball and baseball. I like to eat

sno-cones and double bacon burgers. 

A Building Unlike Any Other


 The race to the skies was on! Featuring in one corner The Manhattan Bank Building designed by H. Craig Severance and in the other The Chrysler Building designed by William Van Alen. Who will win? Find out inside.